James Riley
August 14, 2018

David Thodey's precinct advisers

Policy

David Thodey's precinct advisers

David Thodey: Opening up on the Sydney Technology and Innovation Prfecinct

David Thodey hopes to attract federal infrastructure funding to the just-announced Technology and Innovation Precinct in Sydney, and says the ambitious project will include residential development and a broad range of business to ensure it remains “dynamic and alive.”

The CSIRO and Jobs for NSW chairman has named the members of the powerful NSW Government Taskforce that will further develop the thinking behind the precinct.

The Taskforce, which will meet for the first time on Tuesday (August 14), includes a mix of business, government and academia – including members from organisations that have been the project’s primary drivers, including from Atlassian, UTS, Greater Sydney Commission, and TechSydney.

Mr Thodey says that while the project was focused on the Central to Eveleigh geography on the CBD’s edge, his brief was to cast a broad net “to include the inter-relationship in the Pyrmont, Ultimo and Surry Hills,” which already boast an organically grown startup cluster.

There is no single key driver to the project, he says, but a confluence of ingredients has set up a tremendous opportunity. The availability of a parcel of government land and underutilised property, the enthusiasm of a first anchor tenant in Atlassian, an aggressive tech startup sector, and the proximity to the CBD all contribute.

But the most exciting prospect for is the presence within walking distance of two world-class research universities in the University of Sydney and UTS, and a world-class research hospital in Royal Prince Alfred. The fact that the University of NSW – another world-class university – “is a stone’s throw away" is equally important.

The taskforce members are:

  • David Thodey – Chairman of Jobs for NSW, and Chairman of CSIRO
  • Scott Farquhar – Co-founder and Co-CEO Atlassian, Director Innovation and Science Australia
  • Duncan Ivison – Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), University of Sydney
  • Glenn Wightwick – Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Innovation and Enterprise), University of Technology Sydney
  • Patricia Forsythe – Executive Director, Sydney Business Chamber
  • Pandora Shelley – Chief Executive Officer, Fishburners
  • Craig Dunn – non-executive director, Stone & Chalk, Telstra, Westpac, Australian Government FinTech Advisory Group
  • Sarah Hill – Chief Executive Officer, Greater Sydney Commission
  • Bede Moore – Chief Executive Officer, Tech Sydney
  • Simon Draper – Secretary, NSW Department of Industry
  • Peter Regan – Deputy Secretary, Transport for NSW (This position may be filled by Tony Braxton-Smith, also a Transport for NSW Deputy Secretary)

Mr Thodey said the taskforce was now seeking business and community feedback on the early scoping that had been done by the Greater Sydney Commission and others, and would report back to government in November.

A large part of that work will be working on the value proposition to attract other large international and domestic tech companies into the precinct – think Google or Telstra – but also to develop the fundamentals of its residential and other mixed-use components.

“What I know about precincts is that it’s very important that it’s alive and dynamic and doesn’t turn into a ghetto after 7pm,” Mr Thodey told InnovationAus.com.

“You want residential to be there. You want the interaction [and to] create an environment that created a strong sense of social relationships and activity. So yes, you need residential and you need other [non-tech] businesses there as well.”

Mr Thodey said the US urban ecosystem specialist Julie Wagner from The Brookings Institute had been engaged as an “active subject matter expert” to support the taskforce.

“What we’ve got there is a really high-level mix of public servants, startups, industry and universities, all so critical to this precinct idea.”

“I would hope that this is a combined effort from federal, state and local governments all working together to create an environment that is conducive to an innovation precinct, for the good of Australia, NSW and Sydney,” he said.

He said the new precinct should become a centre for a broad-range of commercial technology and research development across the broadest range of sectors, from deep tech science commercialisation to tech-enabled startups.

“In any strong economy, you need to have strong, mature companies that continue to re-invent themselves an active new business/startup/small business end as well.

“The [NSW] Premier is on record saying she wants to see 50 per cent of all startups [in Australia] from NSW. I don’t know what the right number is, but you want to keep it string and vibrant.”

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